I trekked the vertiginous peak of Harihar Gad, Nashik in the monsoons.
My head is light, my every step is heavy. I realise I’m not breathing and take a deeper one to compensate. We are at the top of Harihar Gad or Harshgad as the locals insist on calling it.
The wind roars within my abnormally small ears. I stand, but not without a little fight, against the icy drafts that push past in a hurry. Mist flows swiftly up the steep side of the mountain, faster than it is meant to – a live demo of one of those clouds-in-the-background time lapses.
In spite of the deafening wind there is a lonely silence that pervades the air; I can hear the dull thud of my beating heart. My sense of time and place is skewed at this peculiar juncture. This elevation, a mere 3676 feet, is shrouded in fog so thick visibility is reduced to just a couple of metres. A shiver runs down my spine as the surreal scene before me emerges and vanishes behind billowing curtains of white.
The approach to Harihar fort from Nirgupada
Beating around thorny bushes
We left at dawn bearing an ambitious plan to camp atop the fort. The drive to Nirgudpada, the base village, took us through lousy, pothole-ridden roads as well as otherworldly scenic ones. Fortunately, I was with Kathe, Shounak and Vishwa, a relatively non-fussy bunch amongst my friends.
After an exceptionally rocky stretch of road, we were greeted by a large expanse of brilliant blue and green. This was upper Vaitarna lake. We made a mental note of it as a camping spot for the way back.
A collage of brilliant blue and green
We abandoned the car at Nirgudpada and started walking towards the towering hill fort. Here, Kathe kept enquiring the route from the village children. One time, before he could even ask them a question they demanded, “Mala paishe dya” (“First pay us”). It seemed as though other trekkers had been giving them money. It is sad because they had now acquired the completely unnecessary and demeaning habit of begging.
We decided to rely on local expertise and started ascending a trail we caught. It was when the thicket closed in upon us that we realised we were lost. The village children had misdirected us. Thorns the size of fingers clutched at our arms, clothes and hair. After an orchestra of “ahhs” we finally reached a stream.
The plateau leading up the fort
Faced with two paths here, we took the rational decision of taking the clearer path, which turned out to be wrong as we reached the other side of the mountain. Somewhere along the way we lost Vishwa who went scouting ahead.
We walked back and climbed up the steep side of the mountain in a zig-zag through grass, moss, rocks and slush. The only challenge here was to avoid slipping. We finally reached the plateau before the steeper section. The second part of the trek was supposed to be tougher for most, but we had made the initial climb so backbreaking that the final climb turned out to be a piece of cake. Yet, nothing could have prepared us for what we were going to see there.
Terrifying but beautifully engineered steps
The marvels of ancient engineering
Vishwa was a seasoned climber and we expected to see him waiting for us here. As soon as we caught some signal we called him and found out that he had apparently slipped on some rocks and broken a finger. He told us it wasn’t a big deal but he would head back down now and wait for us.
The sheer steepness of the stairs cut into rock at an 80 degree angle, could set the adrenaline pumping. A little trail of water continuously ran down the stairs, which made it look even scarier. The marvel of the brilliantly engineered rock-cut stairs dawned on us as soon as we started climbing. They were cut at a delicate inward angle with grips cut into the side that made sure there was no way you could slip if your footing was firm. Each downward glance gave you a linear view of the bottom of the stairs. The stairs continued through a tunnel inside the mountain.
Climbing through the tunnel to the top
At the top, we saw a couple of ponds and temples with a little lake. It was around 5 pm and the last of the trekkers were already heading down. We climbed up to the top-most point of the fort as winds picked up by the minute. Fog flew past us like ghosts and kept insolently blowing the cake I was trying to eat out of my hand.
We started our way down which took about 90 minutes from the top. We were advised to climb down backwards with our fronts to the mountain. This time we followed the normal trail back and reached the village at around 7 pm.
Think I could find a kung fu master in this fog
A tent with a view
Vishwa had taken himself to Khodala, the closest village with a doctor. By 8 pm most of the villages were already asleep. We picked him up and ate a hearty dinner at the only place we could find. Vishwa, the badass, insisted we camp out that night so we drove on dark foggy roads with almost zero visibility and found a spot to camp right next to Vaitarna lake. This is what we woke up to.
Early rising fishermen on their tube floats
Our bodies were deliciously sore when we clambered into one of the most beautiful lakes in Maharashtra and in its comforting embrace we healed. Our windblown hair, caked in sweat and that pleasurable ache in the joints stood testament to nature’s rejuvenation chamber. It washed away all doubts, insecurities and petty desires. A reminder of just how small your problems probably are and how nature, with all its components, always finds a way to grow. When reduced to our most basic forms we are not that different from trees. All we can do in this age of sedentarism, is challenge ourselves physically and, trust me on this, a trek or a camping trip, or heck, ANYTHING with a dollop of mismanagement makes for the best adventure.
Have some fun.
101 Harihar Gad
1.If you want to catch breathtaking clouds on display visit during the monsoons.
2.Trekking in a group is advised if you want to avoid a 127 hours type situation.
3.Never EVER compromise on good shoes.
4.Always triple check the directions given to you by locals.
5.Don’t try to hike faster than you can just to keep up; find your own pace.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Karishma Goenka
Photographs by Abhishek Kathe and Karishma Goenka